Social equity built into pot application of most likely vendor

Karuna already has staff on payroll

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By Maria Maxham

Competition is certain to be stiff for the initial 75 recreational marijuana dispensary licenses to be issued this spring by the state of Illinois. That makes meeting each criterion set by the state in its application process particularly important to hopeful vendors.

In Forest Park a tight relationship has already been built between Mayor Rory Hoskins and Michael Cardozo, a medical marijuana business owner based in Maryland, and his Karuna cultivation and dispensing business. 

Cardozo told the Review this week that he believes he has submitted a "very strong application" to the state "and we feel very good about our chances."

A dimension of that application reflects Illinois' emphasis on social equity related to the war on drugs, a position that may be starker in the Illinois process than in any other state.

A large part of the state's goal in legalization is to help communities that have been disproportionately affected by the war on drugs to benefit from legal marijuana.

The Illinois law does this in three ways: First, it allows individuals arrested for or convicted of cannabis-related offences to clear charges and convictions from their criminal histories.

Second, it creates financial opportunities for those disproportionately affected by the war on drugs to benefit from the change in law. Millions of dollars in low-interest loans are available for people who have been arrested for or convicted of minor cannabis-related offenses, people who live in communities disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs, and companies that hire a minimum number of employees who meet these criteria.

And third, it provides investment through taxes generated from the sale of marijuana back into areas impacted unfairly by marijuana laws. This includes economic development, violence prevention and youth development programs, assistance with prisoner re-entry and legal aid, and other social justice initiatives through the Restore, Reinvest and Renew program. 

Cardozo said social equity issues were a notable aspect of his recent application to the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR).

Cardozo said he is already investing locally in social equity outcomes. His firm is now paying to train future employees, with no guarantees of any return, since he won't know until sometime in the spring whether he'll be granted a license to sell marijuana. 

"Karuna believes strongly in the need for social equity and diversity in the cannabis industry," said Cardozo. "As such, we are proud to have created our own internal social incubator program in conjunction with the social equity criteria. The incubator provides education, mentorship and personalized training to Karuna's Social Equity employees, who are already on payroll. These full-time employees are comprised of residents of disadvantaged communities, individuals with criminal cannabis records, and Forest Park residents."

Karuna's incubator program participants, who are already being paid as fulltime employees, are being trained in the industry through mentorship, seminars, online certification programs in "budtending" and training on cannabis topics such as knowledge of products, dosing recommendations and regulations.

"It's such a privilege to be able to help others through cannabis," said Cardozo. "This is the type of thing I love most about the industry."

Forest Park still has steps to take before the sale of recreational marijuana can take place in the village. The Forest Park Village Council is going to vote on zoning for recreational marijuana businesses in January, at either the Jan. 13 or Jan. 27 meeting, both of which are public meetings. Recommendations from the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA), which met on Dec. 17 to vote on zoning code amendments regarding recreational marijuana uses in town, will be presented.

Assuming the code amendments are passed, Forest Park will be ready for investors and the tax revenue they bring, which will be 3 percent for the village. But only if the investors choose Forest Park. Whether or not Forest Park will actually get a dispensary or cultivation center is still unknown, and the answer depends on several factors, such as how attractive the location and zoning are to potential investors. 

Hoskins has formed a relationship with Cardozo, who presented information and answered questions at the two town hall meetings held by the village to gauge public opinion on allowing recreational pot in town. At both meetings, there was a marked lack of opposition to the issue. 

At those meetings Cardozo expressed his interest in opening shop in Forest Park, with cultivation, craft growing and dispensaries, if granted licenses by the state.

On Jan. 2, Cardozo reaffirmed his commitment to partnering with Forest Park and opening under the name Karuna, which is derived from the Buddhist term meaning "compassion."

"We have built a strong relationship with Mayor Hoskins and the Forest Park community over the past nine months, and we intend on locating there," he said in a statement to the Forest Park Review. 

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